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SCOTUS Rules Petiton Signatures Are Public Record 780

Reader SheeEttin reminds us that back in October, the Supreme Court accepted a case testing whether or not petition signers' names could be kept anonymous. (The premise was that the act of signing a petition is covered by free speech, and thus signers are entitled to anonymity, especially to protect them from harassment.) Now the Court has issued its ruling: signatures are part of the public record. "By a strong majority Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a setback for opponents of gay marriage who wanted to keep their identities secret. The justices favored transparency over privacy in a case testing whether signing a petition is a public act. The case began with a bill that the Washington state legislature passed in 2009, expanding the state's domestic partnership law. The new referendum was known as 'everything but marriage' for the enhanced rights it gave same-sex couples. People who opposed the bill gathered 120,000 signatures for a ballot measure asking voters to repeal it. That measure eventually reached Washington voters, who upheld 'everything but marriage.' Those who signed the repeal petition feared that they would be harassed if their names became public, so they went to court challenging Washington's Public Records Act. They argued that signing a petition is speech that is protected from disclosure. But in Thursday's 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court disagreed. 'Such disclosure does not, as a general matter, violate the first amendment,' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court."
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SCOTUS Rules Petiton Signatures Are Public Record

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  • Re:Well then, (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @12:40PM (#32692298)

    The argument against disclosure of personally identifiable voting records is that disclosing the vote record would allow a party to verify that a paid shill voted the way they were asked to.

  • Re:Well then, (Score:5, Informative)

    by PTBarnum ( 233319 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @12:47PM (#32692440)

    The record of who voted is already public record. If somebody who is not qualified to vote did so, you can't undo their vote, but if you found enough such misvotes you might be able to challenge the entire election. You could also pressure the government to prosecute the voter.

  • Re:Well then, (Score:3, Informative)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @12:48PM (#32692452)

    It's called Caucusing.

    And it's a form of voting used in the US. The most famous is the Iowa Caucuses.

    There is no clause in the US Constitution saying that voting should be public or private or even how votes should be counted. That's left up to the state election commissions.


  • Re:Well then, (Score:3, Informative)

    by ispeters ( 621097 ) <ispeters&alumni,uwaterloo,ca> on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:06PM (#32692812)

    You don't need a public record that person A voted for candidate 1 to be able to verify the vote, so I think the answer to your question is "no".

    To verify a vote, you need a few things:

    1. Proof that all who voted were eligible,
    2. A count of all voters who voted,
    3. A count of all ballots cast,
    4. Some system to ensure that the ballots that are counted are the same ballots that were cast, and
    5. A mechanism for independent verification of the final tally of all ballots.

    Having 1 means that each of the votes should count. Having all of 2, 3, and 4 means that no extra ballots are included in the count (no ballot stuffing occurred), and that no one's vote was skipped. Having 5 means that you can ensure that the count is reported truthfully.

    Step 4 is the hardest to get right because, at some point, you just have to trust. I think you can really only get 4 by enforcing transparency in the voting process. Note, though, that if you have all 5, then the vote can be verified without knowing who voted for whom.


  • Re:Well then, (Score:3, Informative)

    by bit9 ( 1702770 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:16PM (#32692968)

    That's one of the stupidest ideas I've heard in a while. How easily people seem to forget the reasons [] why we have a secret ballot [] in the first place. Governments invariably tend toward corruption, which is something the founders understood quite well. Go back and read the Declaration of Independence.

    The problem with making people's voting records public is that it opens the door for a corrupt government, or even just an angry mob, to influence election results by intimidation and reprisals. Go read George Orwell's 1984 and then ask yourself if you still think voting records should be made public.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:30PM (#32693234)

    How else can you verify that all votes are valid? Seriously, it's the same problem, they should be solved the same way.

    They are not the same problem.

    You register to vote. You go to your assigned voting place. A trained volunteer will validate your name and address. Some states require ID to be presented to vote. You fill out your ballot, pull a lever, or whatever registers your vote and then you leave. Your vote is anonymous, but unless your county uses a paper ballot it's not that hard to match your signature outside the booth with the vote made inside the booth. The premise being that all votes made within the voting booth are consider legal and valid.

    A petition involves volunteers loyal to a cause going to a local shopping center to gather signatures. No verification is performed, and nothing prevents them from hiring people to do nothing but sign bogus signatures. The premise being due to the uncontrolled environment surrounding a petition drive you can not assume that all signatures are legal or valid (eg. Signatures from people outside the jurisdiction should not count, etc.).

  • by butlerm ( 3112 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:31PM (#32693242)

    Now the Court has issued its ruling: signatures are part of the public record.

    The Court decided no such thing. What the Court did rule was that a law that made them part of the public record did not violate the First Amendment. Whether petition signatures are actually part of the public record is up to the states.

  • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:35PM (#32693324)

    Even with transparency, what stops one from using a fake name.

    Because if the people (I would guess it's part of the Secretary of State's office) checking the petition find out, that signature would be invalidated. If there are a large number of such signatures, there may also be a fraud investigation.

  • Re:Well then, (Score:4, Informative)

    by Schadrach ( 1042952 ) on Friday June 25, 2010 @01:46PM (#32693532)

    No, he's saying you can get a record of *who* voted, not *how* they voted. Accordingly if you can find enough examples of invalid voters voting (without knowing how they voted) that it may have made an impact on the election, you can potentially have the election overturned and redone.

  • Re:Well then, (Score:3, Informative)

    by bit9 ( 1702770 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @11:56AM (#32717352)

    But you have when you defended the current system over the previous one. You took sides.

    Again with the reading comprehension problem. When I said I didn't think "one was better than the other", I was talking about vote fixing vs voter intimidation, not open vs secret ballots.

    Asserting my opinion is wrong and then denying that such assertions imply the opposite opinion...

    If you assert x > y and I challenge your assumptions, I am NOT claiming with any certainty that y > x. I am merely casting doubt on your assumption that x > y. And not just as some sort of linguistic "trick" to trip you up, but because I honestly can't see how you claim to be so sure, without having provided any data to support your claim. I don't claim to have any knowledge of whether vote fixing is greater under an open ballot or a secret ballot. I am merely suggesting that both systems are vulnerable to fraud, and that I don't believe we ought to throw out the secret ballot just to try to stamp out fraud, because A) IMO, the secret ballot is important for protecting a voter's right to vote without coercion, and B) I *suspect* that open ballots are just as ripe for voter fraud as secret ballots, or close to it, and C) I believe there are ways to attack fraud without throwing out the secret ballot.

    Fuck you. ... You don't get to hide your opinion while attacking mine...

    I'm not the one making assumptions about whether voting fraud would be greater or less under system X or system Y. I've been very careful to avoid relying on such assumptions. You seem to think this is just some sort of weasel behavior to try to trip you up, but in fact I'm merely trying to express my own opinion without tripping *myself* up in assumptions I can't defend. As for me hiding my own opinion, that's bullshit. You say "x > y", I say "hmm, I doubt that", and you *assume* that means that I have an affirmative belief that "y > x" and I'm merely "hiding" my opinion, and then you get all "fuck you fuck you fuck you...." Maybe you should go take a class on logic or critical thinking.

    Did I mention "Fuck you"?

    Yes, several times. Got it.

    I'm happy to debate the issues.

    Apparently not.

    I don't debate when the other person asserts their opinion is greater than mine while lying, uh, I mean pretending that they didn't actually voice an opinion of their own.

    Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm lying about what my real opinion is, just to win an argument with some guy on Slashdot? I think not. Just because you're getting all huffy and can't be bothered to actually understand what I'm saying, doesn't mean I'm "hiding" anything. The whole point of argument is to promote your own opinion, and that's precisely what I've been doing. You just can't seem to handle someone disagreeing with you, without getting all pissy and whiny and resorting to "Fuck you." So, okay. Conversation over.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken